Sunday, March 11, 2012
I spent most of Sunday driving around Harrisburg, looking at the devastation and talking to people. All of them were friendly and eager to share their stories. And all had fantastic stories to tell about the relief workers.
The tornado had touched down at 5:05 AM on February 29th west of Highway 45 and took an eastward bearing across the heart of town. It was all finished in thirty seconds. There was so little warning that the sirens didn’t go off until it was halfway over. So far, the toll is seven dead, scores wounded, hundreds homeless. I am told it would have been far worse at a time when people were out and about, and I believe it.
The most frequent description of the tornado was that it was like a freight train suddenly materializing outside your home and then rushing through, carrying all before it. Most people had no time to react: they’d literally be caught with one foot in a pant leg, trying to get dressed and hopping down the hall to get to safety. (Of course, where was safety to be had, in such a situation?)
Some houses were utterly destroyed; of others, only a few sticks remained. Incongruously, some interior furnishings were left unscathed while the walls largely disappeared. Some houses seemed fine, but that was deceptive, since they had been lifted up a few feet and then dropped again, resulting in such structural damage that they must be pulled down anyway.
One story I particularly remember was that of Mr. P, who had lost everything except his and his family’s lives, and half of his bungalow. His tools were gone, his dog had been blown away in its doghouse, his old truck was now a jagged cabriolet, and his wife’s car, which he had just bought with the last of his money, was a pancake. He had no job, no money left, no insurance, no relatives to bail him out. But he was planning to rebuild, and he was sure that he would make out all right in the end. The Good Lord, he said, had saved him for a purpose.
Mr. P’s story was fairly typical of those afflicted. Many had no insurance – it must surely be very expensive in “tornado alley.” Many were without jobs, with very limited resources, with no one of means to bail them out. But no one was planning to move out: they were all ready to rebuild. By day’s end, I had developed a tremendous respect and admiration for these “victims” who didn’t know the meaning of the word.
But pictures tell the story better than words, so here goes: